Friday, December 25, 2009

Returning "home"

It's already happened twice since I came back (to Mississauga) yesterday: I referred to going back to Towada as "going home."

But when I'm in Japan I also refer to coming back to Mississauga as "going home."

I guess I'm lucky that I have two places that I honestly feel I can call "home."

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Christmas mania

Even though I've been preparing (buying things) for Christmas and even doing Christmas lessons at schools for over a month, I'm only beginning to feel the "Christmas spirit" now.

I spent the entire evening on Monday baking Christmas cookies (my regular chocolate chunk cookies but with red & green M&Ms added) for my students. Since it's my last year here, I decided to make cookies not only for the Kirita JHS students, but also for all of the students and teachers at the nearby feeder elementary schools--Kamikirida and Shimokirida ES. It took about six hours, but I managed to make 155 cookies in two batches--of which I gave away 154.

Even though it was really time-consuming (I was baking from 6-11pm), and I was tired because I hadn't gotten much sleep the night before, baking the Christmas cookies was very soothing/relaxing. It made me feel happy in spite of my fatigue. Somehow, there's something about baking Christmas cookies that really puts me in the "Christmas spirit." Maybe it's because baking cookies has been my Christmas tradition since high school...

Anyway, after/while baking the cookies, I also wrapped presents for all of my Kirita students. In my first year, I only had one present for each grade (gingerbread house kits) and we played pass the parcel. Last year, though, I had tons of small "prize" things--SpongeBob files, pencil cases, etc.--that my mom had brought/given me, so I had one present for each student and we did the present swapping/stealing game in every class.

This year, I did the present swapping/stealing game with the first year students with the remainder of the prizes from my mom, but I bought a bunch of snacks and made presents for the second and third years as well. Since the students were generally too nice last year and didn't really steal presents from each other, I decided to skip the "game" and just give out the gifts to the second and third years this year.

But yeah between wrapping the presents and putting the cookies into individual gift bags, I ended up staying up until about...4am? And I was up the next day at 7:30am (about 30min. earlier than usual) to deliver the cookies to Kamikirida ES before going to Kirita.

Even though I am enjoying the Christmas preparations/lessons now, I'm also really looking forward to the plane ride back to Canada. I expect I'll be sleeping for almost the entire 13-hour flight! =P

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Cooking failure ^^;;

Maybe it's because I've been reading a manga that talks about a lot of different foods-- 深夜食堂 (Midnight Restaurant) --lately, but recently I've developed a bit of an interest in cooking. Last week I even bought four cooking magazines (in Japanese, of course) and went through them, putting stickies on recipes I wanted to try.

Monday night (Dec. 7) was my first attempt at one of those recipes: 手羽元の肉じゃが風煮もの, "nikujaga" (meat & potatoes) style boiled (chicken) drumsticks. Unfortunately it was a bit of a failure.

Well, it was still edible, but there were a few problems with my cooking...

The first one was a circumstantial issue. While I was in the middle of cooking I got a call from the Monday night eikaiwa because no one had shown up. Turns out there was a miscommunication about the schedule so I ended up having to stop midway through cooking to go to the eikaiwa, and I didn't come back until an hour later. Luckily this interruption occurred before I actually started boiling everything, but it still probably wasn't the best thing for the recipe...

The next problem was that I completely forgot that the soy sauce I had in my pantry was dark soy sauce.

Lastly, I let everything boil for too long. At the end of the time recommended by the recipe, the potatoes were still a bit hard, so I decided to let it boil for a bit longer. Even though I was standing by the stove the entire time, I guess I was spaced out or something, because it ended up getting overcooked. ^^;;

Ah well. I'll just have to be more careful next time. (Although, I don't know when I'll have a chance to cook again since my schedule until winter vacation is crazy busy. And I'll probably go back to my "raw veggie" diet for a bit in January to try to compensate for all the' holiday binge eating.)

Here's a photo of the finished product.

It looks OK until you compare it to the photo from the recipe... ^^;; (You can really see what a difference it makes if you use dark instead of regular soy sauce...)

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Car accident (#2) conclusion

So I finally got my car back on Nov. 27th and was amazed to see that it actually looked newer than when I first bought it! After that I sent word (via my supervisor, of course) to my insurance company that the car was repaired and everything was OK so the two insurance companies (mine and the obaachan's) could get things settled.

I was waiting to hear exactly how much and by when I would have to pay for my portion of the car repairs--did I mention before that the obaachan had kindly refused the need for me to pay for the damage to her car?--and finally got an email from Mukainakano-sensei today....

Turns out the obaachan actually (and very generously) insisted on paying for 100% of the damages from the accident, i.e. car repairs for both cars, plus my medical bills. @_@;; I still feel very shocked and humbled, and also rather regretful. 

As much as I complained about it, a tiny part of me (that I wanted to ignore) could kind of understand the logic behind the Japanese system of assessing responsibility/liability in the case of a multiparty accident, so I stopped feeling like it was "unfair." (Well, subjectively I still felt like it sucked, but when I looked at the situation objectively, I could accept the reasoning.)

[When I got the cost estimates from the insurance company, though, I did feel/wish, that I could have made things less costly for the obaachan (and myself) by buying a different used car. But she had requested that I repair the car so I acceded to her wishes. But I digress...]

I did mention in a post I wrote after the post about the car accident that I realized that I had misjudged the obaachan, but after learning that she had insisted on paying for 100% of the accident costs, I really regretted judging her so quickly (and harshly) in my initial post-accident blog entry.

Looking back, I realize that what I interpreted as "rudeness" could, with a kinder eye, be interpreted as mere brusqueness--likely partially attributable to personality but also probably partially attributable to shock from the accident. I guess I was too caught up in my own feelings/reactions to the accident to be able to step back and look at her actions from a different perspective. I mean, everyone reacts to shock differently. And courtesy/manners are really more a reflection of social skills than of character, so it was unfair of me to think of her as a "rude person" because her behaviour was abrupt/"rude".

Ahhh... I'm making a mess of things, but basically what I want to say is that I've realized that I should work harder not to judge people. This is really the first time I've understood (in my heart and not just my head) why God tells Christians not to judge others. And I feel regretful at my uncharitable thoughts about the obaachan when I think about the verse in 1 Samuel (16:7): "The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."

All I could see was the obaachan's abrupt behaviour and the fact that she didn't explicitly say "I'm sorry." But now her actions have revealed an amazing sense of...integrity? Honesty?

I mean, even if you really felt 100% responsible, it would be easy to accept only 80% of the liability for practical, financial reasons. (And really, the repair cost wasn't a small amount.) If I was in her shoes, I really don't know if I'd be able to make the decision to do the same thing.

So yes, I feel incredibly humbled by her actions.

And I want to do my best from now on to draw conclusions about people less hastily and to give them the benefit of a doubt instead of assuming the worst--because only God knows what is truly inside a person's heart.

(Apologies if this post wasn't very coherent/intelligible--I'm still "in shock" from the outcome of the situation.)

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Osaka plans!

When I first started planning my trip to Osaka (Jan 9-11) I was worried that I would be bored and not have enough to do there, but after browsing through the Osaka Visitor's Guide, I ended up finding a lot of places that look interesting!

So my tentative itinerary looks something like this: 

Sat. Jan. 9: (Evening arrival)
- check into hotel
- gyoza at the Namco Naniwa Gyoza Stadium (ナムコ浪花餃子スタジアム)
- Osaka Castle (大阪城) (night illumination)
- relax in hotel

Sun. Jan. 10:
- Shitennoji Temple (四天王時) (~8:30-9:00)
- Osaka Castle (大阪城) (~9:30-10:30)
- Osaka International Peace Center (ピースおおさか・大阪国際平和センター) (~10:30-11:30)
- Lunch (takoyaki?)
- Osaka Museum of History (大阪歴史博物館) (~12:30-14:00)
- Osaka Museum of Housing and Living (住まいミュージアム・大阪くらしの今昔館) (~14:30-16:00)
- Taiyuji Temple (太融時) (~16:15-16:45)
- Umeda Sky Building "Floating Garden" (梅田スカイビル・空中庭園) (~17:00-18:00)
- Okonomiyaki at BOTEJYU Dotonbori Head Restaurant (ぼてぢゅう總本店・道頓堀) (~18:30-19:30)
- Walking/shopping around Dotonbori (道頓堀) (19:30~)

Mon. Jan. 11:
- Waterworks Memorial Hall (水道記念館) (after hotel check out)
- omiyage shopping at Shin-Osaka Station =P

Now that I look at it, my schedule is actually quite jam-packed!

And of course, before going to Osaka on Saturday evening, I plan on going to the Ghibli Museum in the afternoon, and maybe even the Square Enix Character Goods Shop Showcase if I have enough time. =P

I'm really excited about this trip now! Before I felt like I was going just to eat takoyaki and okonomiyaki and to get Osaka crossed off my to-do list, but now I really can't wait to go! And maybe it's for the best that I'm going alone, after all. I mean, having company would've been great, but this way I can go at my own pace without worrying about another person.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

8 months left...

At first I was planning on talking about how exhausted I am and how much I'm looking forward to winter vacation right now. But then I realized that I only have 8 months left in Japan. So I want to do my best to treasure and enjoy every moment of the remainder of my time here--even when I'm tired and/or when things seem mundane/routine!

Anyway, here's my updated (from my November 4 post) to-see/to-do list:

- 十和田湖冬物語 (Towadako Fuyu Monogatari) - Lake Towada Winter Story: Still planning on going in February!

-十和田市称徳館 (Towada Shoutokukan) - Towada Horse Culture Museum: Just gotta pick a day...

-七戸NonoUe人形の館 (Shichinohe NonoUe Ningyou no Kan) - Shichinohe NonoUe Doll Museum: Went on the Sunday of the November long weekend (22nd)! You can see a couple of photos in my Facebook "Around Aomori" album.

- Osaka: I've already booked the hotel accommodations and train tickets through JTB for the January long weekend (9-11). And yes, it's going to be another 一人旅 ("hitori tabi" aka solo trip). The nice thing, though, is that I'm also getting my fourth Ghibli Museum visit in en route! So I'll be able to try the Cafe's winter menu!

- Hiroshima: Looks like I should be able to go with Jen, Syv and Justin at the end of March/beginning of April!!! Very excited!

- Graduation monkeys for the sannensei: Zero progress made. @_@ Still only have 1/2 a monkey completed. I'm going to be sewing like mad in January/February!

- Graduation video: Watched the video from 2 years ago, and it was really just a photo slide show, so I think I should be OK. Discovered that I'm actually missing quite a few videos, so I'm still in the process of capturing them from the DV tapes. Plus I need to get some more photos off the shared drive...

- Farewell speeches/messages: Finished the Kirita Kagura (kind of like a yearbook?) message to the grads because I thought it was due by November 24th. Turns out the teacher deadline is later (mid-January?) so I may want to edit it; the original message wasn't all that meaningful since I was pressed for time and stuck with very only basic Japanese.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Saint Oniisan

What if Jesus and Buddha shared an apartment in modern day Tokyo?

That's the premise behind the comical slice-of-life manga "聖☆おにいさん" (Saint Oniisan a.k.a Saint Young Men) by Nakamura Hikaru. It began serialization in Kodansha's  monthly "モーニング・ツー" (Morning Two) magazine in 2007 and has since gained a fair bit of popularity as well as critical acclaim. It was even awarded the 2009 Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize Short Story Award.

Unfortunately, it has not yet been licensed for North American release. As a Christian, I'd really like to see this manga translated into English. Some will find it offensive, I'm sure, but I think that the amount of discussion about Jesus, Christianity, and religion in general an English translation would generate would be beneficial. (Well, open-minded discussion would be beneficial, anyway. Obviously strong knee-jerk "This is sacrilegious and should be banned" type rants would probably only promote a negative impression of Christianity as close-minded and judgmental...)

Admittedly it's not a manga I can say that I enjoy without reservations, but I do find it interesting and fairly amusing. [Note: Just to give you fair warning, I talk in detail about some of the scenes, so the rest of the post has a lot of what some might consider "spoilers."]

[Side note: The first time I heard about it, I was really interested in reading it. The first chapter, though, didn't really catch my interest so I didn't bother reading more. After talking about it with a friend, however, I decided to give it a second try and ended up going through all of the chapters currently available online as English scanlations.]

It's interesting to see the writer's perspective on/portrayal of Jesus, even though (based on what I've read so far) I do have some issues with the characterization of Jesus. The artist/writer did apparently research the characters and topics a fair bit, and reportedly has stated that the work is meant to honour both characters--which I don't doubt, but...

There are some minor things I find odd--like the running stigmata gag where Jesus's foreheard starts bleeding (around the crown of thorns) when he gets upset, but I recognize that they simply feel strange to me because they have their roots in the Roman Catholic tradition. But the one thing in the manga that I can't seem to reconcile myself to is how Jesus comes across as very careless about money. (In contrast, Buddha is the more practical/budget conscious character.)

On the one hand, I can understand how the depiction is a literary necessity. I mean, a lot of the humour of the manga comes from the contrast between Jesus and Buddha in their personalities, reactions to things, etc. Besides, in comedic stories characters usually need to have some sort of personality quirk that can be played upon. Apart from literary/artistic explanations for Jesus' portrayal in the manga, I can also see how one might come to think that Jesus might have a careless attitude towards money since he does say:

So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. - Matthew 6:31-34

But not worrying excessively about money/not working too hard in the pursuit of wealth is different from being careless about money. And the Jesus of Saint Oniisan is portrayed as being a careless and even somewhat frivolous spender.

For example, every time the two go traveling/sightseeing somewhere, Jesus wants to buy useless souvenirs/things and Buddha constantly has to tell him to mind their budget and to be more practical. In one chapter (v1 c3), the two go to Asakusa. Buddha has to buy a baseball cap to cover his head/forehead so that he won't be accosted by tourists. Jesus, on the other hand, chooses to buy a complete Shinsengumi costume set--a purchase he justifies to Buddha as a pajama set. In another chapter (v1c7), Jesus spends a lot of money on a beginner's modeling set. And the first things he makes--the "something very dear to [him], a representation of [his] symbol" that Jesus sculpts--is not a cross which Buddha expects it to be but rather a laptop computer. (Jesus runs a blog/website where he posts reviews from every drama on every TV drama on the same day that it airs.)

Taken individually, I found both scenes quite amusing. Being a fan of the Shinsengumi and having been tempted more than once to buy some tacky Shinsengumi paraphernalia myself, I could definitely relate to the Asakusa experience. As a blogger who has recently added Sitemeter to my site--so I'm now compulsively checking my site stats once or twice a day!--I found the "Jesse's Dramandala" (Jesus uses a pseudonym) chapter pretty amusing.too.

But when I look at broader implications of the scenes, it bothers me to realize just how much of the time the Jesus of the manga is occupied with things. More than just being a frivolous spender, he comes across as being rather materialistic. Yet Jesus is the one who said "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth.... But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven.... For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:19a, 21). So I don't think Jesus would really spend a lot of time trying to find the right Asakusa souvenir or making a lunchbox shaped like a notebook computer (much less making one as his "symbol").

Another "interesting" thing about the "Jesse's Dramadala" chapter (v1 c5) was the role it assigned to Buddha in one scene. After finishing his blogging, Jesus is hungry and wants to eat something. But there's nothing in the fridge and it's raining outside, so he asks Buddha if they can order in. Budget-conscious as he is, Buddha suggests that Jesus fast for the night. Finally Buddha seems to relent and goes off to get Jesus something. He returns in short order with a glass of water and a plate of rocks and tells Jesus that he can simply turn it tor bread and wine.

What's interesting about this scene is that it casts Buddha in the role of Satan. After all, in the Bible, before Jesus begins his ministry, he spends 40 days and nights fasting alone in the wilderness:

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, "If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread." Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God." - Matthew 4:1-4

So Buddha is actually taking on the role of the devil when he tells Jesus to turn the rocks into bread! And it seems like this was done intentionally by the writer, since Jesus' reply is something along the lines that Buddha doesn't have to play the part of a "demon bride." (Of course that's from the English scanlation. I haven't read the original Japanese, so I can't say how accurate the translation actually is.) I wonder what devout Buddhists would have to say about that?!

Another scene that I thought was interesting on a personal level but problematic on a Biblical level was when Buddha and Jesus participate in a mikoshi carry at an autumn festival (aki matsuri) (v1 c8). Jesus and Buddha are talking about how cool happi coats are, but in order to wear them, they have to participate in carrying the mikoshi (portable Shinto shrine). In the end of course, they decide to do it even though they're afraid of "getting made fun of by the Shinto god (of the shrine)." Their logic: no one will recognize them anyway!

The Biblical issues with the scene are pretty obvious, but it really struck me because way back in my first year in Towada I also participated in a mikoshi carry in the Towada Aki Matsuri. At the time I only thought of it as participating in a Japanese "cultural" thing and didn't even consider the religious implications.

And I think really that's been one of my biggest problems living in Japan. There are so many "cultural" things that have Shinto/Buddhist origins/meanings but it seems like many Japanese don't make that distinction between religion/culture, so I always end up going with the flow and thinking about the implications after the fact.

For example, last year the Towada ALTs were invited to a New Year's celebration held by the Towada Soroptimist Group. We ate traditional Japanese New Year food (osechi ryouri), played with traditional children's toys/games. They also dressed us in very nice kimonos (girls)/hakamas (guys). But at one point our hostess asked us to pay respects to her late husband. This of course involved lighting incense and "praying" at the household memorial altar.

Although this custom comes from Buddhism and is a form of ancestor worship,  I feel like for many Japanese it's more a matter of respect rather than a religious practice. So I was afraid that refusing would seem disrespectful. I did do it--out of respect--and tried to offset the sense of "wrongness" by at least praying to God while paying my respects, but it was a very uncomfortable moment for me. And really, I should have not done it and explained why I felt uncomfortable doing it. I'm sure our hostess would have understood if I had explained that I was refusing in order to be respectful to my own beliefs, and not out of any disrespect.

I've always felt like it was cowardice/fear of "confrontation" that made me "go with flow" and that kept me from properly explaining myself in such situations. But from reading Introverts in the Church I've come to realize that as an introvert, I generally take longer to think/react (compared to more extroverted people), so it's really more a problem of feeling pressured to respond without having enough time to think. And of course when you're feeling under pressure, it's easier to choose the path of least resistance. The Soroptimist New Year's party wasn't the first time such a situation had come, but the last time I had thought about the issue of paying respects to deceased family was the summer of my first year (re: obon), so I was sort of taken by surprise by the situation. Instead of simply feeling guilty about being "too afraid to explain myself," from now on I think I just need to remind myself before going to a Japanese person's house that such a situation may come up and prepare myself mentally to give a proper explanation.

But back to Saint Oniisan...

As problematic as I find some aspects of the manga, there are some scenes which I find truly funny. My favourite scene is probably the sauna scene in v1 c6. Jesus and Buddha go to the local pool/community center and end their day in the sauna. Jesus strikes up conversation with a guy there who just "happens" to be a yakuza member! The yakuza member see Jesus' scars and asks how he got them. Jesus answers that they were from being "condemned to capital punishment by some government officers" and the yakuza guy takes him to be a fellow former convict.

The yakuza guy goes on to explain how he spent seven years in Hokkaido after being betrayed by one of his "younger bros" (from the English fan translation). Jesus remarks that his situation was similar, but, in his case, he was able to come back after three days. The yakuza is naturally impressed and wants to know how Jesus managed that. Jesus replies that he didn't actually do anything. The yakuza guy asks if "someone pulled [Jesus] out from there." Jesus' answer: "Oh, no, in my case... It was the will of my Father, so..."

From this the yakuza guy draws the conclusion that Jesus is the second generation head of his (yakuza) group! It's really a great scene, and the way Jesus is drawn when he says "It was the will of my Father" really adds to the effect!

Although each chapter is pretty much stand-alone, there is some plot continuity. For example, when Jesus and Buddha go to the fall festival (v1 c8) where they participate in the mikoshi carry, they actually meet up with the sauna yakuza guy. He (and some fellow group members) are running a game stand and they are actually the ones who get Jesus and Buddha the happi coats and invitation to participate in the mikoshi carrying. =P

Actually, I really liked that the yakuza were "the first friends [Jesus and Buddha] made in the mundane world." I think it really fits with the Biblical depiction of Jesus as a friend of people outcast and marginalized by society.

So yeah, I think Saint Oniisan is an interesting manga that raises a lot of good points for discussion about not only the characters of Jesus and Buddha but also about religion in general. I haven't decided whether or not to buy the Japanese manga yet, but I'm definitely keeping track of the English fan translations!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

"Otaku" tour of Tokyo! Day 3

Our last day in Tokyo started off with a visit to Asakusa. Unfortunately Sensoji (the main temple) was undergoing restoration so it wasn't much to look at, but we did get a picture in front of Kaminari Mon (the main gate leading up to the temple).

I went back to the 33-flavour soft cream place that I had been to with my mom & dad, Brenda & Cecilia on my first visit to Asakusa. Instead of going for an unusual but tasty-sounding flavour, I went with the oddest one--miso--with predictable results. =P

One new thing I saw during this (my third) visit to Asakusa was Chingodoji--the Tanuki Shrine!

After Asakusa, we went to Ginza. We stopped at Uniqlo where I bought a pair of dark brown high boots that I'd seen online but weren't available in Towada. It was a bit of a pain lugging the box around for the rest of the day, but it was totally worth it since they're pretty much my favourite pair of boots right now. ^__^

Then we wandered around a bit (thanks to my terrible sense of direction) before going to the Sony Building. We played with the new touch-screen PC monitors (with Windows 7) and looked around for a bit before heading out to Tokyo Station.

On the way to the station, we stopped for lunch at Wendy's. It had been a while since I'd enjoyed a Wendy's burger. ^___^

At the station, we spent a fair bit of time at the Shonen Jump Shop. I bought a Chopper (from One Piece) hat in preparation for Halloween. Nate bought two Bleach charms, one for himself and one for a friend. They were the type where you wouldn't know which one you actually got until you opened the box. We walked around some of the other shops for a bit and then went to a nearby sweets/coffee shop for some refreshment and a break from all the walking. While we were there, Nate decided to open one of the boxes. It turned out to be one that he didn't really think was all that cool, so he went back to the Jump Shop to buy another one.

When we shook the new box, however, it sounded like the one he'd opened, so we decided that he should give the new one to his friend and open the other one he's purchased the first time round. Luckily it was a different one, but it still wasn't the charm he was hoping for. In the meantime, I decided that I wanted to get a One Piece t-shirt to use as part of my Halloween costume, so this time I went back to the Jump Shop while Nate stayed at the sweets shop. While I was there I decided to get another Bleach charm for Nate.

When I tried to give it to him, though, he insisted that I should keep the charm for myself, so I opened it, and lo and behold, it was the same as the first one he'd opened! =P So between the two of us we bought the same charm two, or possible three times in one day. Pretty impressive "luck" since there were 10 different charms in all!

After that we wandered around Tokyo Station a bit more before we finally just sat down in a waiting area and waited for the time to come to go up to our respective train platforms. (I was headed back to Towada and Nate was off to Kyoto.) And that was the end of my "otaku" tour of Tokyo with Nate!

(Final photo before it was time to say our goodbyes!)

(See my complete album from Nate's trip to Japan at

Oh, and if you were curious, this is how my One Piece costume turned out! The hat and t-shirt I bought at the Jump Shop, while the shorts and skin-coloured long sleeve shirt & leggings I got from Uniqlo. And I made the hooves myself! (Yes, I'm a big nerd!)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

"Otaku" tour of Tokyo! Day 2

Day 2 (Sunday, October 11th) we headed out to the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka!! Even though it was my third visit there, it was still a lot of fun. Plus, I got to try out the autumn menu in the Straw Hat Cafe!! I had the Open Sandwich with Meatloaf and Cheese (麦わらぼうしの手作りミートローフサンド), Sunset Cream Soda (夕焼けクリームソーダ), and Pumpkin Chiffon Cake with Ice Cream (かぼちゃシフォンケーキ)!! Nate had the Katsu Sandwich (くいしんぼうのカツサンド) and Mikan Juice.

As usual, I ended up buying a fair bit at both the gift shop and book shop. In particular, there was a book, Asobi no Fuukei (秋田、遊びの風景) written and illustrated by Oga Kazuo (男 鹿和雄) that was about his childhood in Akita Prefecture. Since Akita Prefecture is right below Aomori and part of the Tohoku area, I simply had to buy it! Of course, it will probably take me a really long time to actually finish reading (even with the pictures, it's a lot of text!), but it's good Japanese practice, so I'll do my best! ^___^

Oh, and when I went there in spring with my mom & dad and friends Brenda & Cecilia, my parents bought me a set of (5) Totoro glasses and coasters. This time (with Nathan), I bought myself a set of (5) Totoro pudding bowls! =P I don't expect to actually make pudding, but I can always use them for ice cream or something. 

Apart from things that I purchased for myself, I also got an awesome present from Nate: a Totoro necklace!! I'd actually wanted the necklace since the first time I visited the museum in April 2008, but since it was a little over 10,000 yen ($100) I could never justify the cost to myself. But since Nathan offered to buy it for me, well... ^___^ I'd say it's probably my favourite piece of jewelry right now.

After Ghibli, we headed to Odaiba to check out The National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (Miraikan). Unfortunately since we got there fairly late in the afternoon, the really cool-looking simulator rides/experiences were already closed. There was still plenty to see/do, but it was pretty busy and I think neither of us felt like waiting for all the children to finish playing with various exhibits so we could try them out, so I think we didn't get as full of an experience of the Miraikan as we could have. 

But still, I learned about bioplastics--plastics produced by plants. It's pretty cool. I guess I had heard of it before--water bottles made from corn--but hearing about it at the Miraikan I was still like "Woah, that's really cool." Of course I'm sure there's probably a big debate about using plants to make plastics instead of using them (or the land used to grow such plants) for food, but it was interesting to learn more about the science behind it.

After the Miraikan we wandered around Odaiba for a while. We stopped by the Fuji TV building (although we didn't go inside), saw a replica Statue of Liberty, and wandered through the Aqua City and Decks Tokyo Beach shopping centres. We had sushi/sashimi for dinner at a restaurant in Decks Tokyo Beach. 

Once we were done at Odaiba, we headed to Tokyo Tower. It was a lot more crowded than I expected it to be. @_@ To get tickets to the Special Observatory (250m) you had to buy tickets for the main observatory (150m), go up and then buy the tickets from there. I can't remember exactly how long we waited, but I think it was probably close to an hour and we barely made it to the last admission time (although I think they extended it that night since there were lots of people who were in line and were able to come up after us... But the view from the Special Observatory really was a lot better than from the Main Observatory, so I guess it was worth all the waiting. ^__^

Oh, and apparently we were also lucky to see a "Special Day Only Light Veil, Diamond Veil: New light up performs in the Tokyo night. On special days the Tokyo Tower glistens like it is covered in a diamond veil."

Diamond Veil illumination

Regular illumination

After Tokyo Tower, we went to the National Diet Building.(国 会議事堂). This is where the "otaku" part really becomes obvious...

The reason we went there--and why we went specifically at night--is because my brother (well, I am, too) is a big fan of the manga/anime series "X" by CLAMP. The Diet Building is a prominent location in the series since one of the characters, the dream seer Hinoto is employed by the national government and actually lives (and works) in the basement. Since the characters usually visit the building at night, my brother also wanted to see it at night! 

As we were walking to the building, we saw a police/security guy walking around the perimeter of the grounds. Then when we got to the main entrance, we saw a police car parked in front of the gate! With the car there, it was a little intimidating to go right up to the gate, so we went across the street and stood in the median area and took pictures from there. (Which was probably more suspicious than if we'd simply gone up to the gate, but oh well...) As we were finishing up with our pictures, we saw a man and a young boy (presumably father and son) run right up to the gate, pointing excitedly before running off.

Seeing them we got the courage to go up to the gate as well and so we took more pictures from there. While we were taking pictures, the two (or possibly just the boy? I can't quite recall...) reappeared with a woman--presumably the mother. Who knew the Diet Building was such a popular night attraction? I mean, it was around 11pm when we were there! =P 

After that we went back to the hotel where we packed our bags (in preparation for checking out the next day)  

(See my complete album from Nate's trip to Japan at

"Otaku" tour of Tokyo! Day 1

I started writing this post a long time ago, but wasn't able to complete/publish it because I was "distracted" by the accident and my crazy busy Nihonbuyo practice schedule (among other things) after that...

And yes, I'm aware that "otaku" has more negative connotations in Japan (i.e., a hardcore fan obsessed to the point that it's pitiful/weird/scary) than it does in Canada/America (where it's more a badge of honour--i.e. a highly dedicated/knowledgeable fan), but I'm Canadian so... *shrug*

So yes, we arrived at Tokyo Station around 10am on Saturday, October 10. After dropping our bags off at the hotel (check-in wasn't until 3pm), we headed for the Square Enix Character Goods Shop Showcase. Nate only bought a key chain, but I ended up buying a Chocobo keychain (a number of my Kirita students were impressed/envious when they saw it =P), a chirping Chocobo chick toy, and a Final Fantasy Mascot Umbrella. I was tempted to buy a necklace (a FFVII Materia Pendant--either Meteor or Holy) and Nate, being the nice brother that he is even offered to pay for it, but I knew I probably wouldn't wear it that often and so I refrained.

After that we had lunch at a ramen shop--Keika Kumamoto Ramen-- near Shinjuku Station that was recommended by my Tokyo Encounters (Lonely Planet) guide. It was fast and tasty. (Plus Nate got to see what it's like buying a ticket from a vending machine for a restaurant food order.) After that we decided to check out Sweets Paradise. I thought it would just be a regular cake shop, but it turned out to be a dessert buffet (you could also eat actual meal food, like spaghetti, salad, sandwiches, and curry). Despite having just eaten ramen, we both managed to have two plates of desserts each--credit goes to the "betsu bara" i.e. separate stomach (for dessert).

Then we went back to the hotel to check in. After a short rest, we headed back out to hit the Taikokan (Drum Museum). Although it was smaller than I expected (it was on the fourth floor of a shop), it was still pretty fun since you could bang away on various drums and other percussion instruments from different countries.

After that we went to the Edo-Tokyo Museum. Even though it's supposed to be open until 7:30pm on Saturdays (with last admission 30 minutes before closing), it was already closed/closing when we got there around 6:30pm. =(  So we just snapped some photos of the Sumo Hall and then wandered over to the Yokoami-cho Park for a bit. (Nate had noticed a pagoda structure while we were at the Edo-Tokyo Museum entrance and wanted to investigate.)

Even though neither of us was particularly hungry, we headed to Tsukishima's so-called "Monjayaki Street" for dinner. Monjayaki is apparently a local specialty of Tokyo, and it's kind of like okonomiyaki, except that when it's cooked it doesn't have any particular shape and is just kind of a blob of ingredients on the grill (which you eat off the grill using a mini spatula). Unfortunately I'd forgotten that Nate wasn't so good with cabbage (a main ingredient of monjayaki), but at least he was able to have a truly "Tokyo" experience.

After that we headed out to Shibuya because Nate wanted to see some of the places--the Hachiko Statue and Shibuya 109--seen/featured in the Nintendo DS The World Ends with You (すばらしきこのせかい) game. The Hachiko Statue was surprisingly difficult to find. I was expecting lots of signage and a fairly large statue, but we had to look around for a bit to find it.

It turned out to be a good thing that he went to see Shibuya 109 with me instead of waiting to see it on his own/with his (guy) friend when he returned to Tokyo the following weekend because Shibuya 109 was the most girly mall I've ever been to. It was pretty much just female fashion/accessory stores inside. Though it was somewhat interesting observing the various fashions of the people in the store, it was WAY too much for me. *shudder*

We walked randomly around Shibuya for a while before going to Tower Records--where Nate bought Tokyo and Kyoto guidebooks--and finally heading back to the hotel.

(See my complete album from Nate's trip to Japan at

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

9 months left...

Hard to believe a month has already passed since I turned in my decision to NOT re-contract. I know that I did a lot in October, but I still feel like there's so much to be done, and so little time!

Anyway, here's my updated (from my October 2nd post) to-do/to-see list:

- 十和田駒フェスタ (Towada Koma Festa) - Towada Horse Festa: It was awesome!! Check out my photo album from the day at

- 奥入瀬渓流紅葉 (Oirase Keiryuu Kouyou) - Oirase Gorge Autumn Foliage: There was still a lot of green when I went, but it was gorgeous nonetheless. Plus it was a totally relaxing/refreshing day for me when I needed it most.

- 十和田湖冬物語 (Towadako Fuyu Monogatari) - Lake Towada Winter Story: I'm going to have to wait until February for this one...

-十和田市郷土館 (Towada Kyoudokan) - Towada Culture Museum: I actually went a 2nd time on the same day that I went to the Koma Festa. This time I went with a friend who could explain things to me so it was much more interesting!

-十和田市立新渡戸記念館 (Towada Nitobe Kinenkan) - Towada Nitobe Memorial Museum: Also visited this museum on the same day as the Koma Festa and Kyoudokan!

-十和田市称徳館 (Towada Shoutokukan) - Towada Horse Culture Museum: Just gotta pick a day...

-七戸NonoUe人形の館(Shichinohe NonoUe Ningyou no Kan) - Shichinohe NonoUe Doll Museum: Again, just gotta pick a day...

- Osaka: I recently decided that I'm going to go during the long weekend in January (9th-11th); it may end up being another 一人旅 ("hitori tabi" aka solo trip) but I want to try to get all my traveling done by early May at the latest so I can spend my final 3 months (May-July) preparing (mentally/emotionally as well as logistically) for moving back to Canada.

- Okinawa: Plans are still up in the air, but I'm hopeful that Tomabechi-sensei and I can a spring date set pretty soon...

- Kariya City (Aichi Prefecture): Unfortunately I don't think I'll have time for this one. Guess I'll save it for the March 2011 trip (back) to Japan...

- Hiroshima: Plans are still up in the air, but I'm hoping I'll be able to go with Jen & Syv, etc. in March. If not, I'm going to go during Golden Week (again)!

- Graduation monkeys for the sannensei: I currently have 1/2 a monkey completed. @_@ February is gonna be brutal!

- Graduation video: I've gotten most of the videos I need transferred from DV tapes to my external hard drive, and have pulled lots of photos of the students from the shared drive, but have yet to start putting it together @_@ I really hope I can pull this off!

- Farewell speeches/messages: Haven't started yet, although occasionally fragments (phrases or even sentences) of messages pop into my head (usually not at a time when it's convenient for me to write them down, however...)

- Write a year's worth of JHS English newsletters: No longer necessary. With the increasing shift of ALT visits from JHS to ES, we've decided to end the JHS newsletters with the next edition (December 2009) so we can focus more on the ES newsletter

Nihonbuyo Performance #2

So I didn't really tell people about my performance this time, which was kind of ironic since: 1) it was free (last time tickets were 2000 yen a piece), and 2) I actually had a much bigger part in this performance than the last one.

For the October performance, I was only in one piece, Oedo Nihonbashi. This time I was in the Opening Ceremony, Oedo Nihonbashi, and both the children's and men's Tachimawari. @_@ Actually, it was probably because I was dancing in all those other pieces that I didn't want to tell anyone about the performance. I didn't have any confidence in my part for any of the pieces other than Oedo Nihonbashi.

As I mentioned before, due to my schedule, I was only able to make three practices for the Opening Ceremony and I was feeling really frustrated with my own lack of grace compared to everyone else. Then, to make matters even worse, the sensei organizing our part for the Opening Ceremony (not Rika-sensei) changed our last pose during the dress rehearsal--the day before the performance!! And it wasn't just a minor change--I had to do something completely different from what I had been doing before!

I had already been worried about my exit off the stage--we were supposed to dance off "freely and naturally"--but I had practiced a bit with Rika-sensei, so I thought it would be OK. (I really wish people would understand that there's no such thing as dancing "naturally" when you're a beginner with absolutely no natural "dance sense.") But with the change in the final pose, I was completely lost! Originally I ended standing up, and I left at the same time as the girl standing opposite me, but with the change I ended in a "sitting" (well, kneeling, really) position and my back was to the girl I was supposed to leave at the same time with, so I couldn't look at her for my cue!

And, as I expected, I messed up the final pose. I was supposed to end off kneeling with my right knee on the ground and my left knee elevated (think of a guy going down on one knee to propose and you can get the general idea of how my legs were positioned for the pose), but because of the way I naturally pivoted from the previous position, I ended up going down onto my left knee. ^^;; I doubt that anyone in the audience noticed, but I recognized my mistake right away, so it was pretty frustrating...

But in spite of my complaints, it really wasn't all that bad, and I did manage to enjoy myself.

It's probably just the recent "girly" phase I've been in, but it was kind of fun getting my hair done and changing into different kimonos--like playing dress up as a kid (which I never actually liked, but anyway...). I wore one kimono for the Opening Ceremony, another for Oedo Nihonbashi, and then a hakama for the Tachimawari.

(Opening Ceremony kimono)

(Oedo Nihonbashi kimono)

(Tachimawari hakama)

(More photos at

Oedo Nihonbashi and the children's Tachimwari also went quite well. Plus I was pleased to have been able to prevent a big mistake in the men's Tachimawari by pointing out that the rope Hanada-sensei was supposed to throw to me at the end was on the wrong side of the stage (my side instead of his side) in time for someone to bring it over to the other side.

But then Hanada-sensei had difficulty throwing the rope--it didn't actually reach me--so I wasn't able to catch it (which was really my only part in the men's Tachimawari). ^^;; But it was more funny than embarrassing, so that miss--unlike the Opening Ceremony one--didn't bother me at all. (Besides, I figured it had to be Murphy's Law since I never missed the rope once during practice, of course I would miss it during the real performance. =P)

Another nice thing about the day was that I was able to see a friend (whom I thought wouldn't be able to see the performance due to work) backstage just by chance. ^__^ Said friend also sent me a highly complimentary email after the performance, which was really nice to get, particularly since it was about the Opening Ceremony dance which I felt bad about having messed up in...

But yeah, I was definitely glad to be finished with the performance! And I sincerely hope that's the last one I'll "have to" do before I leave. It's fun enough learning/practicing, but I'm really not the type of person to enjoy doing public performances.

Oh, and another good thing about the day was that--in a rare move for me--I decided to go out for dinner with Erik, Bryan, and Kristina afterward. We went to Hatsuhana where I was able to have "old-style" omurice. (You can see food pictures from an earlier dinner there in mid-October--including the omurice!--at And I LOVE omurice! ^__^

Apart from the food, it was good to be able to hang out with everyone again. With my crazy October schedule, I haven't been able to hang out much with other ALTs lately. (Because I was so busy most days, when I had free days I mostly just wanted to stay home and relax/decompress.)

But yeah, with the performance(s) done, I'm hoping to have a much more relaxed November. It may sound odd, but it makes me happy to see lots of white (i.e. empty) spaces on my calendar!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Emotional roller coaster

Usually I don't have a lot of highs or lows emotion-wise, but recently things have been really up and down.

I had a great time with Nate in Towada and Tokyo. And when I came back from that the fun continued with Kirita School Festival preparations, an awesome Saturday at the Towada Koma (Horse) Festa, Towada Kyodokan & Nitobe Memorial Museum, and finally the actual Kirita School Festival.

But right after that, things crashed (figuratively and literally) with my car accident. That week was pretty rough, but on Sunday I was able to refresh myself with a morning viewing the fall foliage in Oirase Gorge, an afternoon baking cookies, and dinner at one of my favourite restaurants in Towada.

Then this week I had lots of fun with Halloween parties/lessons at Kirita JHS as well as my top three favourite elementary schools (in chronological order, rather than order of preference): Sanbongi ES (Mon. morning), Shimokirida ES (Wed. morning) and Takashizu ES (today).

But as fun as the days were, the past two nights have been absolute downers.

Thursday night I had practice for the November 3rd Bunka Sai Opening Ceremony. Rika-sensei had asked me to arrive early for practice, so I was there from 6pm until about 8:30pm! I think it was extra tiring because I'm only actually dancing in the very last part (maybe 2-3 minutes?) but of course we had to practice the entire piece so I was just sitting and watching for the most part. And I had to sit in seiza (on my knees) for almost the entire time because that's the proper etiquette. @_@

I do try to have a positive attitude towards most things, but I really regret agreeing to be in the Opening Ceremony of the Bunka Sai.  Because of my schedule I could only make it to three of the practices (tonight was the third) and I'm not naturally graceful/athletic or anything, so it takes me a while to learn a dance and I feel really uncomfortable performing without a lot of practice. And the thing with the Opening Ceremony is that it's a piece with students from many different schools/teachers of dance so there's the added discomfort of performing inadequately in front of/with people who are mostly strangers.

I think I've gained a bit more confidence since coming to Japan, but I'm still pretty self-conscious, so these opening ceremony practices have been more tiring mentally/emotionally than physically. At least once during every opening ceremony practice I think to myself "もう全然やる気がない!" (I don't want to do this at all anymore!) Maybe if I'd started practicing a month earlier I would feel differently, but then again, considering that would've been at the same time as all the preparation/practices for the October performance, maybe not...

One good thing that came out of Thursday night, though, was that I got to see one of my students who graduated in my first year at Kirita. (She's also dancing only in the last part.)

Then today I got an email at 4pm from Rika-sensei saying that 3 of the elementary student girls who were supposed to be in the children's Tachimawari were out with the flu and that she wanted me to come early for practice today so I could learn the part and be in the dance! So I was at the Bunka Center for practice from 5:30pm-8:00pm tonight. = _ =

Again, I HATE going into things feeling unprepared, so doing a performance with only one night of practice before the actual event is the worst! Plus the Tachimawari is a men's style dance, so the movements--the stances, positioning of feet, etc.--are completely different from the type of Nihonbuyo (classical Japanese dance) I usually do.

I suppose it's all a good experience for me, but right now I'm just feeling really put upon, tired and cranky. And the thing is we have a dress rehearsal for the Opening Ceremony on Monday evening (after work) and I'm going to be out for the Bunka Sai from 8:30am until at least 4pm on a day that's supposed to be a "holiday" (with work the next day), so I'm really feeling quite resentful towards Nihonbuyo right now . (もう嫌だ!) I can't wait for the performance to be over and for next weekend to come!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Real Clothes

So I started watching a new J-drama called Real Clothes a few of weeks ago. (It airs every Tuesday at 10pm on Fuji Television.) The basic premise is that a dowdy salesperson, Amano Kinue gets transferred from bedding to the women's clothing section of a major department store, Echizenya. Jinbo Miki is the newly hired supervisor of the women's clothing department and she has big plans for the renewal/revival of the department store. Having no interest in clothing, Kinue struggles to find her place in this world of elite fashion.

I really enjoy the show because I feel like I can relate to Kinue. (She also happens to be 26 in the story!) At the beginning of the first episode, she is traveling in Paris with her boyfriend, Tatsuya. Although he tells her she should buy some nice clothes since they're in France, all she's interested in is eating various foods recommended in her guide book! When she first meets her soon-to-be-new-boss, Jinbo Miki, Miki looks at her with disdain and declares: "If you wear boring clothes, you will have a boring life."

Kinue's attitude towards clothes reminds me of how I was, probably right up until almost the end of university. Even as a child, I rebelled when my mom wanted to put me in pink frilly dresses. I was always more for comfort (those frilly dresses were itchy!) than style. Then I became super self-conscious about my weight/appearance in junior high and high school, so I only wore black clothes. (I did branch into grey towards the end of high school, though.) I lost weight in my first two years of university because I was living in residence and had to cook for myself (i.e. no meal plan), so around that time I started buying more clothes in different colours--mostly reds and various brown/beige tones.

But I was also buying a lot of manga/anime at the time, and moreover had started getting into hockey, so I preferred spending money on those things rather than clothes. Apart from my (very basic and plain) clothing for work--I'd worked summers and part time at Scotiabank since I was 17--I pretty much only had t-shirts and jeans, plus sweatershirts/hoodies for colder weather. When I started work full time I did go on a bit of a clothes shopping spree, but I still stuck with very plain clothes--still predominantly black--and went for practicality/comfort rather than style. Unlike Kinue, I wasn't thinking "I don't like clothing/fashion" but I did feel like I couldn't be bothered with it.

But, just as Kinue has been developing an appreciation for clothing over the past few episodes, I've started to find the fun in being a girl and "dressing up" since coming to Japan. At one point in the first episode, a co-worker of Kinue's tells her that she likes working in the women's clothing department because she enjoys seeing the happiness on customers' faces when they look in the mirror and realize that they've found that perfect article of clothing. In the second episode, when Kinue asks another co-worker what she should do to improve in her job, the co-worker tells her all she needs to do is to like clothing/fashion more. Still yet another co-worker tells her later on that the first step she needs to take is to find one thing (fashion-related) that she likes--a favourite colour, silver accessories, one piece of clothing that makes her feel happy, etc.

As I said, I've never disliked clothing/fashion, but I've never really found clothes shopping enjoyable before. I always thought it was kind of a pain being a girl. I mean, when guys need to "dress up" all they need to do is put on a suit and tie and they're done, but girls have so many more decisions to make/things to consider--dress, skirt, or pants? flats or heels? accessories, hair, make-up, etc. etc. Unless it was for work or a semi-formal event, I generally couldn't be bothered to do more than throw on a t-shirt and jeans.

I think that one of the "one thing"-s that made me feel happy was the yukata I bought in August of my first year. At the time I didn't know how to put it on by myself, but when I was able to wear it during Aki Matsuri (thanks to the help of a nice older Japanese lady), I felt a little different--more feminine, maybe. And this year in particular I've been finding a lot of shoes and clothes that I really like--especially pants. Having lost a fair bit of weight since coming to Japan, I've been noticing that the pants I brought with me are pretty loose now. For example, I used to be able to get away without using a belt, but my pants would sag dangerously low now if I went without one.

I've always had the idea that Japanese pants are designed for super skinny girls only, so I'd never bothered trying on any pants (exccept at the GAP in Sapporo) in Japan. But recently I tried some on at Uniqlo and was pleasantly pleased to discover that I could find ones that fit! I needed to get them shortened, but even in Canada pants were generally too long for me, so that wasn't an issue. Besides, at Uniqlo they can hem pants for you for free (if you don't mind visible seams) in about 15 minutes!

So yes, I went on a second Uniqlo shopping spree (the first one being about a month ago) on the Monday when I had the car accident. (I was driving from Uniqlo to Powers U, in fact, when the accident happened). I bought two pairs of dress/work pants, two pairs of jeans, and three v-neck sweaters. The mother of one of my Kirita first year students was working at Uniqlo that day and actually rang up my sale, so I was a bit embarrassed to be "caught" spending so much in one shot, but oh well... (By the way, this is a picture of me clothed almost entirely in clothing from Uniqlo! In case you're wondering, the socks and necklace are the only things not from Uniqlo. Furthermore, with the exception of the black turtleneck--which I bought last year--it's all stuff I purchased from Uniqlo within the last two months! @_@ I'm crazy, I know--and my budget is completely out of whack now, too...)

I still prefer simple styles, but I'm branching out a bit at least. I still haven't figured out how to wear the "Japanese-type" top I got from Chambre, but I was really happy to discover that the "Sawako-image" one piece dress and parka (hoody) that I ordered simply because it was related to the Kimi ni Todoke anime/manga actually didn't look too bad on me! (Well, I did send a picture of myself in it to a friend to ask her opinion about how it looked on me before I wore it in public, but anyway...)

Apart from the burgeoning interest in clothing, another thing about Kinue I feel I can relate to is her stage in life. In the most recent episode (episode #3), her boss, Miki, asks her about her direction in life: what she intends to be/where she wants to be five years and ten years in the future. Kinue realizes at this point that she hasn't really thought about her future in such terms before and is unable to answer.

Watching the show, I was also thinking "Where do I want to be five years and ten years in the future?" I really have no idea. I know that I want to be working somewhere where I feel challenged by the work and where I feel like I'm making some sort of contribution to society, but I haven't a clue as to what type of job that would be.

Until recently I would've at least been able to say that I definitely planned on living/working in Toronto or Mississauga, but now even that's in question. Maybe it's just my natural dislike for change, but recently I've been thinking about what it'd be like to come back to live in Towada permanently... There's probably only a 2% or less chance of me actually doing so, but the fact that I'm considering it all just goes to show how completely up in the air my plans for the future are.

Another long held "plan" for my future that has come into question since I moved to Japan is my belief that I would never ever get married. I've always thought that the whole relationship thing is just way too much trouble and that I would be much happier staying single, but actually living on my own for the first time I've realized that there are some benefits to being able to share your daily life with someone. I've said it before, but for one thing, moving into my apartment and having to assemble various pieces of furniture--bookshelf, dish cabinet, etc. etc.--on my own really made me think about how handy it would be to have a guy around... Well, assuming said guy happens to be good with such things... =P

I still believe that I'd be perfectly happy staying single, but I'm no longer completely resistant to the idea of possibly getting married in the future. Even just a few months ago if someone asked me about whether I planned/wanted to get married, I'd immediately say "Not for me. NO WAY." But now it's more like, "Most likely not--but you never know."

So yeah, my time in Japan has definitely been a huge learning/growing experience for me so far. I wonder what the next nine months have in store for me...?

[Edit: The Real Clothes theme song "きっと大丈夫" ("Kitto Daijoubu" loosely translates to "definitely all right/OK") is sung by Sakazume Misako and can be found in her "love note" album.)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Day to soothe the spirit

Today was a really good day.

I got up early to go to Oirase Gorge to see the fall leaves (I left the house around 6:15am!). Thankfully very few others were up at the time, so driving/parking wasn't a problem, and I could enjoy the gorge in solitude for the most part.

Even though the leaves haven't completely changed colours yet, it was still beautiful. I just wish that my camera could accurately capture the vividness of the splashes of red against yellow/green. Usually when I go through the gorge with people, I only stop at a few big sights--the Kumoi and "Little Niagara" waterfalls, for example--but since I was on my own and had plenty of time today, I actually walked through a good portion of the gorge. (Although I still drove and parked at various places.)

At one point I even broke into song:

Looking at His wondrous works I stand amazed in awe
How could any person doubt that He is God?
Since nature sings out his praises then I ought to join
And share in this grand worship to the Lord!

It was a bit embarrassing because I thought I was alone, but about 30s after I stopped singing, I paused to take a picture and a slightly older couple came from behind and passed me. I'm guessing that they were probably close enough to hear me singing, but I just didn't notice them behind me at the time... ^^;; Ah well, singing from the heart is nothing to be ashamed of, I guess.

And I'm really glad that I went early in the morning--even though it was pretty cold! I don't think I would've enjoyed it so much or been so relaxed if I'd had to contend with all the cars/traffic. I'm also glad I decided to just do the gorge and not to bother with Lake Towada. As it was, I didn't get back home until around 11:45pm--meaning I spent five and a half hours at the gorge (well, minus travel time).

Admittedly coming home was a little bit stressful. The last place I parked was actually near the beginning of the gorge, but I'd parked on the left hand side, so to get out I was forced to drive back into the gorge. I was worried that I'd have to go through the entire gorge (heading towards Lake Towada) before I'd get a chance to pull off/turn around somewhere, but luckily about 10 minutes in I was able to pull over and traffic cleared enough for me to do a 3-point turn and head home!

Once home I had an apple for lunch and made Halloween cards for tomorrow's classes. After that, I baked chocolate chunk cookies to give out as Halloween treats to the elementary school I'm visiting on Friday (only 49 students in the whole school)! Not only does baking relax me, but it helps warm up my apartment and fills it with delicious smells!

After that I decided to go out to Isshin for dinner. Ah, that reminds me, even though I only had an apple for lunch, I guess all the walking around the gorge--or simply the passage of time--helped me to regain my appetite somewhat! So I was actually slightly hungry and felt like eating a proper dinner. And I didn't just eat at Isshin, I also brought my Canadian history textbook (Origins: Canadian History to Confederation, 6th ed.) so I was able to study while waiting for my beef curry and while enjoying almond cocoa afterwards! I spent a little over an hour at Isshin, which is pretty amazing for me, considering that when I eat alone I usually gulp down my food in a mere 10-15minutes.

Such was the state of my mellowness after Isshin that even though I had a bit of a driving scare on my way back, I still felt very relaxed when I got home. (As I was approaching an intersection where I had the right of way, a car started entering the intersection from my left! Talk about déjà vu! Having learned from the accident, however, I had slowed down approaching the intersection, so it was only a bit of a jerky stop for me. Plus the other car--which had a stop sign--did in fact come to a stop, although it was a very abrupt stop after entering the intersection slightly.)

So yeah, I feel like a lot of the stress from the past week was soothed away today. Plus my appetite is returning, which is good. Unfortunately I still have neck/shoulder stiffness, plus headaches, but I decided to stop being so...stoic...about the pain and took a couple of Advil (my first time opening the bottle since coming to Japan!) when I got home. So far it seems to have done the trick for the headaches.

Oh, and you can see a selection of today's photos from Oirase Gorge (a lot of them are pretty similar ^^;;) at

Friday, October 23, 2009

Post Traumatic Stress?

The mind is a funny thing.

I was driving again mere hours after my accident and have been driving to work, etc. every day since without feeling much more than a need to be extra cautious. Well, naturally in the back of my mind I'm nervous, but that nervousness never manifested physically before. But suddenly today--four days after the accident--I could feel myself getting anxious as I was driving to the office. Guess it was the post traumatic stress belatedly kicking in.

Since I'd been totally fine driving up to then, the anxiety took me completely by surprise. It wasn't a panic attack or anything major like that, but I could feel a tightness in my chest and I was a little nauseated. When I reached the office I actually had to just sit and take deep breaths for a while before I left the car.

Maybe it only hit me today because today I started getting more details about what's going on insurance-wise. Even though I knew about the split liability thing in Japan, I never really thought through the implications too carefully. Split liability (in my case, it seems like it's going to be 80%-20%) means not only am I responsible for a portion of the damage to my car, but I'm also responsible for a portion of the damage to the obaachan's car! (Well, turns out she's not actually all that old--around 58, maybe? But she really looked older. Guess the farming life is very hard on a person... But yeah, I'm going to keep referring to her as "the obaachan" because it's easier.)

And since this is my second accident within the same year, if I get the insurance company to pay for the damages, my monthly premiums will jump up to something like 60,000 yen (over $600!) per month!!

I'm trying to stay positive about everything, but really, I can't help but feel that it really sucks that I'm going to end up paying so much--either out of pocket for repair costs or over the long term in insurance costs--because I had the misfortune of getting hit by someone else. But since I can't change the past, there's no point in bemoaning my "luck"--all I can do is try to stay positive as I deal with the consequences as they arise.

On the brighter side, the obaachan's insurance will cover all of my health/medical costs--even compensation for fuel costs for going to the hospital!--so that's one less thing for me to worry about. Even though I was able to walk away from the accident without showing any signs of obvious injury, I have been noticing extra stiffness/pain in my neck and shoulders, and I've been having low grade headaches of some duration/frequency for the past few days. So yeah, I decided to play it safe and went to a clinic today.

Which reminds me of another thing I'm really thankful for: an awesome supervisor and office!! Particularly since the accident occurred outside of working hours, it would totally be within my office's rights to expect me to use my paid holiday days (nenkyu) to go to the doctor. And my supervisor didn't have to make the time to come to the clinic with me this morning, either, but she did. I know she's also spent a ridiculous amount of time on the phone with the insurance companies, and running around various places to file paperwork....

Plus on Tuesday (the day after the accident) I finished my school visit after lunch, so normally I'm supposed to go to the office for the rest of the afternoon, but since I wasn't feeling so great--mostly I felt mentally fatigued--they let me go home after school instead. So yeah, my supervisor/office have really done a lot to make this a lot less of an ordeal than it could be.

But back to the health/"post traumatic stress" stuff...

Since I went to the doctor today I had to submit papers from the insurance company (?) dealing with the medical stuff to the police. Well, actually Mukainakano-sensei took them in this evening and I got a call from her around 6:15pm because it turned out I needed to give a statement in order for the police to be able to accept the form.

The statement covered the basic details of what happened--time, my speed, where I was coming from and going at the time--as well as things I thought I could've done to prevent the accident (slowed down more before entering the intersection). It also clarified when I started feeling pain (the morning after the accident) and why I waited so long before going to the doctor (I was busy at school and didn't want to take time off to go!).

The interesting part was that they also asked me if I wanted the obaachan to have a heavy penalty/fine since the accident was "upgraded" from a mere vehicular accident to a vehicular accident with injuries. I wasn't really seriously injured, so of course I said there was no need for a heavy fine, but I'd like to think that I wouldn't be out to "punish" the obaachan even if I'd been injured worse. I mean, it wasn't like she was drag racing or driving under the influence or anything--it was just an accident. Maybe it could've been avoided if she'd entered the intersection more cautiously, but the same could be said for me--although I believe the onus for extra caution was on her since she was facing a stop sign. And it's not like having her pay a big fine would do anything to help my situation at all.

But yeah, I really hope everything--car repair stuff, insurance, health stuff--gets settled soon.

I've even suffered a loss of appetite since the accident. I eat because I know I should, but I don't really feel like I'm actually hungry anymore. Or, if I do feel hungry, once I start eating I feel full very quickly. As I result, I've been eating even less than usual for dinners--maybe just an apple and/or some yogurt. (Well, last night I had the bread from school lunch that I couldn't eat at the time, but that was because it was there rather than out of hunger.) But I'm pretty sure it's just a "post traumatic stress" thing and not a physical problem. Hopefully once everything is settled I'll also be able to settle down more mentally/emotionally and get back to normal.

*sigh* I really hope that I'm OK driving through Oirase Gorge to Lake Towada on Sunday. But I'm down to my last 9 months in Japan, so I'm not going to let even something like a car accident stop me from seeing the famed autumn foliage! I'm going to sleep early Saturday night and get up early to avoid the crowds, so I think it should be OK... Maybe I should have asked someone to come with me, but I'll do my best to get over my driving jitters on my own.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Driving jitters

As might be expected after a fairly serious car accident, I'm a little nervous about driving now--more so now than after my accident in January. With that accident at least I knew exactly what happened and I knew that it was my own carelessness/stupidity that caused the accident. It made me slow down and drive more cautiously--particularly in poor weather/road conditions, but that was about it.

With this accident, though, I now feel nervous about being on the road with other drivers (which is most of the time). In the back of my mind I keep wondering if they're fully in control, if they see me, if they're going to stop where they're supposed to, etc. etc. It's pretty tiring, mentally.

But I really want to go to Oirase Gorge/Lake Towada to see the autumn leaves this weekend so I'm going to have to suck it up and get over it. (It needs to be this weekend in particular since next weekend I'll be too busy to go, plus Aaron told me the leaves have already mostly changed colour, so if I wait too much longer it might be too late!) Of course the road will probably be packed, so I'm extra nervous about that.

Right now my plan is to try to go early Sunday morning--like 5:30-6:00am so that hopefully it won't be as crowded--of course, with my "luck" everyone else will probably have the same idea.... At the very least, though, I hope I can avoid some of the buses. *sigh* I'm tempted to ask people if they want to come with (in the hopes that they'll offer to do the driving for me) but I'd feel bad inviting people knowing that was partly my motivation.

So yeah, barring any unforeseen circumstances, I should hopefully have some nice fall foliage photos to post by the end of this weekend!

Oh, and I learned today that I misjudged the old lady. Apparently when she was insisting on getting the car repaired, she was actually saying that she would pay for all the repairs--so it wasn't like she was trying to find the cheapest way out of the situation, which is what I thought at the time. Even though I still think her attitude/behaviour was pretty abrupt, at least now I feel like she recognized that she was in the wrong and sincerely wanted to make amends. It doesn't change the situation at all--I'm pretty sure her insurance company will convince her to take only 80-90% of the blame/cost, rather than 100%--but knowing that the offer was made does make me feel better about things.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Second scariest event of my life

I had a couple of drafts for posts on other topics in the works, but they all got trumped by this most recent event.

So Monday (October 19th) I had a day off because I "worked" all day at the Kirita School Festival (which was awesome, by the way!) on the Sunday (October 18th). The day got off to a great start. I woke up around 8am, did some laundry, ate a giant cream puff (a kind of "thanks for your hard work" present for all the teachers after the Kirita School Festival) for breakfast, and did a bit of tidying up around the house.

Around 12:00-12:30pm I decided to go shopping! I completely killed my budget at Uniqlo and did a bit of grocery shopping at Max Value as well. Since I bought pants that needed alterations, I was at the Uniqlo until just before 2:30pm.

From the Uniqlo I decided to go to another grocery store, Powers U, as well as the next door Daiso (100 yen shop). I took a sort of back road that I always take and...

As I was going through an intersection, I saw a flash of white out of the corner of my left eye and heard a horn blaring. I tried to swerve and speed up to avoid a collision, but the car hit the rear passenger side of my car, sending my car sliding/spinning. Because K-cars are really light, it ended up toppling over and finally slid to a stop when it hit a telephone/electricity pole and a short garden wall or something of a house at the corner of the intersection.

Even though I ended up lying against the driver's side window (i.e. against/parallel to the ground), I was basically OK. In fact, the first thing that I said (other than "I'm all right") was "I didn't have a stop sign, right?" Funny how my biggest concern at the moment wasn't being injured, but the possibility that I had been at fault in the accident.

But I did feel a moment's panic when I realized that I couldn't open the passenger side door to climb out from the top. Thankfully, though, 4-5 guys from around the area came out and were able to push my car back upright, so I could get out through the driver's side door.

I guess it all must've looked pretty bad because someone called an ambulance instead of just the police, but when they arrived I was like "I was in the car that was hit, but I'm OK." The paramedics asked me some questions, got me to sign a form saying that I had decided not to go to the hospital and that was that.

Oh, at one point the old lady who had hit my car with her k-truck had come to where my car was and all of sudden she fell to her knees and was holding her head in her hands. The paramedics were all like "Are you OK?" And she was like "It was scary." I know it's uncharitable of me, but at the time I was thinking "Shouldn't I be the one saying that? You're not the one whose car went spinning and flipped over!"

Fire department people also came along with the ambulance. They mopped up the oil/radiator fluid/whatever it was that was leaking from my car, unplugged the battery to stop the engine (the key was jammed so I couldn't just do it the usual way), and picked up some of the larger pieces of debris from my car.

While this was going on, I was calling my office to get in touch with my supervisor. Everyone was out at an elementary school, so one of the office staff, Tomabechi-san, called the school to get in touch with Mukainakano-sensei for me. Thankfully she was able to come because dealing with a multi-car accident is a heck load more complicated than a single-car one. I also remembered to call my dance teacher to cancel the practice I had scheduled for 6pm that night.

Then it was a lot of waiting for the police. By the time they came, most of the people had cleared out. They took my statement, asked me to show them at what point I noticed the other car, where I heard the horn, etc. etc. It was a lot harder to give accurate details this time because it happened so quickly. Plus there were a lot of old skid marks on the road--suggesting that it was a pretty dangerous intersection that has probably had it's fair share of accidents and close misses--so the police officers had a bit of difficulty figuring out which ones were related to this accident and which weren't.

While one officer was taking my statement, another one was taking the old lady's. A couple of times she came over to me and was like "I did stop, right?" And both I and the police officer(s) were like "Well, if you did, I couldn't tell."

The one thing I'm a bit worried about my statement is my speed. The speed limit was 40 but when the officer asked, at first I automatically said I was going 50km. He was like "I don't think you were going that fast." And I was like, "Oh, somewhere between 40 and 50, then? I tried to speed up when I saw the other car coming." With the Japanese liability system, the only time anyone in a multi-car accident is considered at "no fault" is when that car was parked/stationary. I just hope that my confused statement doesn't cause me to get a larger percentage of the fault--people have said it should probably be 90%-10%.

Speaking of oddities of the Japanese legal/police system, I found it incredibly strange that all of the bystanders were allowed to disappear before the police came. There was another car that had stopped on the right side (the K-truck old lady came at me from the left side) of the intersection, so that person would probably have had the clearest view of what actually happened. And since s/he wasn't directly involved, her/his account would probably have been the most accurate. But I'm pretty sure that person was long gone by the time the police came, so even if they had wanted to take a statement from that person (although I got the feeling it wouldn't have occurred to the police to do so) they couldn't have.

To me it was just really bizarre that people didn't know to/weren't expected to stay at the scene of the accident. I mean, in Canada it's a chargeable offense to leave the scene of an accident (even if you weren't involved in it) without leaving your information so you can be contact later if necessary!

The other thing that really bugged me (more so now than at the time) was the old lady's behaviour. I know I should cut her some slack because she was old and probably a bit panicked from the accident, but still... I don't remember if she even asked me if I was all right (although lots of other bystanders did). The first thing she came up to me to say was to ask me to make a call to her insurance company or something. (I couldn't understand what she was saying at all at the time, but she made the same request to Mukainakano-sensei when she came, so I'm guessing that's what it was about.) To me it seemed like her biggest concern was insurance and how much of the liability for the accident she would be assessed with. And after Mukainakano-sensei had made calls to her insurance company, husband, etc. for her, she was just like "Can I leave now?"

Maybe her attitude would have been different if I hadn't looked so healthy/unaffected by the accident, but I know that if I hit another car--even if it was nothing more than a light tap on the rear bumper--the first words out of my mouth would've been "Are you all right? I am SO sorry!"

And I mean, I really could have been seriously injured. Granted, both of the cars were K-cars so I suspect that neither of us was going that fast (although it felt to me like the old lady was), but still, with my car toppling over the way it did,I feel like it was really thanks to God's protection that I wasn't hurt.

She was also insistent that I get the car repaired (instead of having to get a new one). But it's not like that would be a decision I could make on the spot, right? Mukainakano-sensei kept having to tell her that was something that would be decided after discussion with my insurance company.Then too, she really wanted Mukainakano-sensei to get my car towed to a repair place that she knew to get the insurance quote done.

But I was like, isn't that kind of shady? Wouldn't it make more sense to go through the Honda dealership where I got the car? And when Mukainakano-sensei called the Honda dealer I got the car from, Komukai-san, he also said it was more normal to go to a place that I knew rather than following the wishes of the person who hit my car.

Argh. Just thinking about the attitude of that old lady still gets me riled up. Her husband, at least, was much more sensible to deal with. When he came the first thing he did was apologize for the trouble.

But anyway, there are a lot of things I'm really grateful for regarding the accident. First and foremost I feel really blessed to have been able to walk away from the accident without even a bruise (and I bruise easily!). Admittedly I'm a bit sore and have felt like I've had a low-grade headache all day today, but it's about the same severity as the soreness you feel after working out for the first time in a while. And given the way my car toppled over, it really could have been a lot worse.

I'm also thankful that I got my car from Komukai-san at the Honda dealership. The dealership had it's own tow truck, so I didn't even have to deal with calling JAF. Plus they brought a daisha (substitute car) for me at the same time so I could drive again right away. (The Netz people were nice, too, but I've spent some time talking with Komukai-san--when I was buying the car, getting my tires changed, etc. etc., so I feel extra reassured knowing that he's taking care of everything on that end.)

I'm thankful that Mukainakano-sensei was able to leave to come to help me. The first accident I had was pretty straightforward, but having another party involved just made it so much more complicated. I could deal with the police on my own, but handling that old lady was well beyond me.

I'm also really grateful that not only did Mukainakano-sensei come out to the scene of the accident, but that Aaron also came. After getting a bit emotionally battered by the apparent callousness of the old lady, it was really a relief to have someone there to offer sympathy and support. He also invited me to have dinner with him and Sanae and I was really glad to be in the company of friends last night. (The dinner was delicious, too!) If I'd stayed home by myself, I probably would've just kept dwelling on the accident.

Even though I know the old lady was mostly at fault for the accident, I'm a bit of a control freak so I can't help but wonder what I could have/should have done to avoid the accident. I suppose if I'd been driving super cautiously--instead of regularly--I might've seen her in time to stop, but then again...

But anyway, I've realized a few things from this accident:

1) My mind tends to latch onto minor/inconsequential things as a way to avoid dwelling on bigger things. Some of the thoughts that went through my mind during the immediate (and not so immediate) aftermath of the accident:

- I'm glad I didn't get a car wash as planned this morning. It would've been a big waste of money.
- Luckily I decided to wait to buy eggs at Powers U instead of at Max Value; they would've broken during the accident anyway.
- I wish I had brought my camera with me so I wouldn't have to rely on my cell phone to for a photographic record of this event.
- This was the worst possible timing insurance-wise. (My contracts go from Oct-Sep so the new premiums might come into effect immediately if there's an increase.)
- Thankfully this happened just before payday so I won't be strapped for cash if I end up needing to pay for stuff out of pocket.
- It's going to be embarrassing going to the Eneos (I always get my gas at the same gas station) because they'll probably ask about the change in car and I'll "have to" tell them that I was in yet another accident.
- Ditto for explaining the situation to the Kirita teachers.

2) In his reply to the email I sent to a few friends back home informing them about the accident, Alan wrote: "I find it strange and intriguing that you are finding blessings out of so much calamity!" Apparently I'm more optimistic than I thought. I've always believed myself to be a "worst-case scenario", "glass is half-empty" kind of thinker, but that's usually so I can be prepared for the worst. Once "the worst" has actually happened, I guess I try to look on the bright side of things rather than bemoaning my fate or dwelling too much on "If only's."

3) Apart from being more ecologically friendly, riding and bike and walking to places has the additional benefit of being a lot less trouble in the case of an accident-like if I wipe out on my bike or slip while walking, chances are the damage won't be too severe, and I won't have to go through reams of paperwork afterward. I really need to make more of an effort to walk/bike to places that are close by. ^^;;

4) I did learn something very practical from my last accident: make sure to empty out the contents of your car before it gets towed away! I had all of my "indoor shoes," some CDs, maps, and a bunch of random things in the car, so luckily I also had a Jusco shopping basket in the trunk to stick everything into! =P

5) Japanese old ladies (obaachan) scare intimidate the heck out of me. @_@;;